While the process of arranging candidates’ names on a ballot is normally straightforward, the unprecedented number of candidates running for the four County Council at-large seats this year could lead to controversy as state election officials attempt to cram a whopping 35 primary candidates onto this year’s primary ballot in a way that is fair to all those running.
“I think it’s very fair to say that this particular office [County Council at-large] will be a challenge for us to determine the proper arrangement of the ballot,” said Donna Duncan, assistant deputy administrator for the Maryland State Board of Elections, which is currently in the process of crafting the myriad ballots for the primary.
While there is a committee that will have some input into the process, MSBOE Project Manager Natasha Walker will bear most of the responsibility for the final look of ballots for the June 26 primary, which the Board must certify by May 2. Voters won’t have to wait that long, however, as Duncan predicted that the Board would post preliminary versions for each of the state’s various elections by the end of March.
Although Duncan said that in the past she has seen ballots for local party central committee elections boast more than 20 candidates, this year’s Democratic at-large primary field is the largest she can remember seeing for any particular race.
In a normal year, the process of arranging names on the ballot fairly is simple, as it typically requires no more effort than is required to list candidates’ names in alphabetical order from top to bottom. While it is likely that the ballot for this year’s June 26 Democratic Primary will feature the same arrangement, the unprecedented number of candidates running in the at-large race means some candidates whose names start with letters that come later in the alphabet could appear at the very bottom of the ballot – or even on a different page than the rest of the field.
Such an arrangement could be disadvantageous for those unlucky candidates whose names come at the tail end of alphabetical order, but neither of the candidates contacted by the Sentinel expressed much concern over their potential ballot position, instead expressing confidence in the State Board of Elections’ ability to be fair.
“We're not concerned about it,” said Chris Wilhelm, the candidate running for County Council at-large who will have his name appear last alphabetically on Democratic ballots. “I think it probably makes more sense to randomize it, but it doesn't concern us.”
Wilhelm’s name will appear last of the 35 democratic candidates, but while some studies show the order in which names appear on a ballot can impact election results, Wilhelm has taken his predicament in stride by attempting to turn it into an advantage, noting that appearing last in a long list could make it easier for voters to find his name.
“I much prefer to be last than in the middle,” he said.
To prepare the large ballot and the sea on names that will be one Wilhelm said he distributed campaign fliers that look like mock ballots with a large arrow pointing to his name so prospective voters know where to find him.
Another whose name that will appear toward the bottom of the ballot – Graciela Rivera-Oven – responded with laughter when asked if she had any worries about her name’s ballot placement, adding that she has not given the matter much thought, and is more interested in making sure people go out and vote on election day.
“I’m confident that the ballot will be fair, so I don’t worry about that,” she said.